Arusha, December 12, 2013 (FH) – The spectacular surrender of Bosco Ntaganda, known as the “Terminator”, is one of the main events marking 2013 at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Congolese general gave himself up in March this year. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the event, saying it would “advance the cause of peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as the fight against impunity in the region”.

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It was on January 12, 2006 that the ICC Prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno Ocampo, filed a first request asking the Court to issue an arrest warrant for Bosco Ntaganda for war crimes. The suspected crimes were committed in 2002 and 2003 in Ituri, eastern DRC, in connection with activities of the Patriotic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (known by its French acronym FPLC), the armed wing of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC). The arrest warrant was issued on August 22 the same year by judges Claude Jorda, Akua Kuenyehi and Sylvia Steiner. It was first placed under seal and then unsealed on April 28, 2008. The three judges said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Ntaganda was third in command of the FPLC, after the chief commander Thomas Lubanga and Floribert Kisembo. The arrest warrant says it was in that capacity that the suspect went several times to FPLC training camps where children under 15 were conscripted and then sent to the battle front under his supervision. Named army General Despite the arrest warrant, Ntaganda was integrated into the regular Congolese army under an agreement with the government in Kinshasa in March 2009. He was named a general and spent his days untroubled in his stronghold of North Kivu. His former boss, Thomas Lubanga, was not so lucky. The ex-head of the UPC was arrested in 2006 and in the ICC’s first judgment on March 14, 2012, was found guilty of war crimes. Convicted for conscripting children under 15 and using them to fight, Lubanga was sentenced on July 10 the same year to 14 years in jail. He has appealed.  Following the Lubanga judgment, human rights organizations called attention to the fact that Ntaganda was suspected of the same crimes and was still at large under the protection of Congolese president Joseph Kabila. At that time Kabila considered that arresting the former rebel commander would endanger the fragile reconciliation process in the east of the country. Meanwhile the ICC Prosecutor was working on another arrest warrant based on new evidence, some of it gathered during the Lubanga trial. The Court issued a new arrest warrant on July 13, 2012 for murder, rape and sexual slavery, persecution, attacking the civilian population and pillaging.   “Born in Rwanda but raised in Congo”Ntaganda deserted the army several weeks before the second arrest warrant was issued. He was joined by other deserters who said it was because the government was not fully implementing the March 23, 2009 agreement. And so the M23 rebel movement was born. No doubt aware of the risk of choosing an internationally wanted man as its military boss, the M23 chose someone else. And on March 18 this year Ntaganda turned himself into the American embassy in Kigali asking to be transferred to the ICC in The Hague. The circumstances under which he left the DRC are still not clear. In any case, on March 22 Ntaganda joined Lubanga in the ICC prison in The Hague. Three days later he made his initial appearance before the Court, where the judge made sure he understood the charges against him and verified his identity. “My name is Bosco Ntaganda,” he said. “I only have those two names, the names my parents gave me. As you know, I was in the army in Congo. I was born in Rwanda but I grew up in Congo. I am Congolese.” The suspect addressed the Court in the Rwandan language. His confirmation of charges hearing is set to start on February 10, 2014. However, human rights organizations say he should also be tried for crimes committed in North Kivu, another region of eastern DRC. ER/ JC